Whitey Bulger — How He Terrified Mayor Kevin White

Whitey Bulger Terrified Mayor Kevin White

Kevin H. White, Mayor of Boston 1968–1984

Fear Was Whitey’s Greatest Weapon Against Mayor Kevin White

Even in 1975, Whitey Bulger had enough of a reputation to put the fear into Boston’s leading political figure — Mayor Kevin White. So much so, that the mayor was frightened out of his wits one night when leaving his gym in South Boston. Afraid that Whitey or one of his thugs would be waiting to kill him in the dark parking lot.

Mayor White admitted as much in a 1978 interview with WGBH TV’s Christopher Lydon. “I was never more scared in my life,” White said,  “…Whitey would be crazy enough to do it. And if they shoot me, they win all the marbles.”

Why was the mayor so afraid of Whitey Bulger? And why would Whitey want to kill him?

This was during school desegregation. Also known as forced busing, it had turned the whole city of Boston upside down. During desegregation, tempers were especially high. There were lots of protest marches, lots of violence and plenty of resentment.

Whitey Bulger In a Surveillance Photo With Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks

Whitey Bulger With Colleagues Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks On Castle Island in South Boston — DEA photo by Special Agent Mike Swidwinski.

Whitey Bulger’s Business Disrupted by Desegregation

South Boston was at the center of the storm. As the buses rolled into town, so did lots of cops. As a South Boston resident, Whitey Bulger was just as resentful as everyone else in his community. He also resented the police presence because it made it more difficult to conduct his business on the streets.

At the time, Whitey was part of a merger of different gangs, the Mullens, the Killeens and Winter Hill. To the police, they were referred to as the “Irish Mafia.” (Read more about the history of the gangs, and how Whitey ended up on top, in this ShortList article.)

J. Anthony Lukas writes about the mayor’s concern that the gangs would infiltrate an anti-busing march in September, 1974. In his Pulitzer-Prize winning book Common Ground, Lukas says White feared the gangs would draw weapons and shoot at the police if the march was stopped. There were also reports that the gangs were passing out weapons to kids in South Boston so they could join the battle as well. One rumor had Whitey Bulger preparing to blow up all the bridges into South Boston to keep the buses out.

Senator William Bulger vs Mayor Kevin White in the Busing Crisis

During Busing, South Boston Senator Billy Bulger Was No Friend of Mayor Kevin White

Billy Bulger’s Political World Disrupted by Desegregation

Another reason the mayor was terrified was because of Whitey’s brother Billy Bulger. The senator from South Boston was a fierce opponent of busing and one of Mayor White’s biggest political adversaries. The two had a very tense relationship. Kevin White was certain that if he ever crossed Billy Bulger, the senator would call on his brother Whitey to punish, even kill, him.

There’s no evidence that Billy Bulger ever asked his brother to do such a thing. But the fear was real enough for Mayor White. In a 1992 Boston Magazine article, he talks about a night he was called to meet at senator Bulger’s house in South Boston. The meeting was to take care of political business. But all the way there, the mayor feared that Billy had called him to South Boston where Whitey Bulger could kill him more easily.

Kevin White survived the years of desegregation, serving as mayor of Boston until 1984. And he survived any threats, real or imagined, from Whitey Bulger. Succeeding White as mayor was Raymond Flynn, the first South Boston politician elected mayor of Boston.

(This post authored by Steve Burke)

Steve Burke

Read another post — Whitey Bulger — How He Shipped Arms to the IRA

Whitey Bulger — How He Beat the State Police

Remembering Kevin White

Boston and Its Busing Problem — An Irish Family Feud

Home Page — The Chieftains of South Boston